Frequent Feeding Keeps TMR Fresh Different approaches work well for these producers Fresh feed is always on the menu at Randy and Judy Riniker's Guttenberg, IA, farm. They feed their 75 high-producing Holstein cows a total mixed ration (TMR) six times a day - at 5 and 7 a.m., noon and 5, 7 and 11 p.m.

"You couldn't take that late feeding away from me for anything," says Randy Riniker. "I think it's the most important one. I often catch a cow that's showing signs of heat or beginning to freshen."

That vigorous feeding schedule, plus high-quality hay and haylage, help the Rinikers maximize production. Their current rolling herd average is 32,035 lbs of milk and 3.6% butterfat on twice-a-day milking.

"The herd average has been that high for four years," says Riniker.

"In times of low milk prices, we have to do everything we can to keep feed costs down and production as high as we can maintain. High-quality forage and poor management will always outdo poor-quality forage and average management."

The couple feeds 6,800 lbs of TMR daily, with alfalfa haylage making up about two-thirds of the mix. Other components include alfalfa hay, cottonseed, dry shelled corn, a bypass protein supplement, meat and bone meal, sodium bicarbonate, salt, vitamins, minerals and fat.

"Our dry matter intake is 58 lbs/cow/day," says Riniker.

Working with a dairy nutritionist, the Rinikers rebalance the ration every three weeks.

Over the past six years, the couple has experimented with corn silage twice and both times saw their production drop.

"It's more work for us to rely completely on alfalfa, but if we get the haylage made at the proper time, the energy isn't much behind corn silage. And our facilities are set up to deal with one forage instead of two."

The Rinikers grow all of their own alfalfa on 115 acres. The second cutting is put up in round bales and 1,000 small bales. The other four cuttings are chopped and put in an upright silo. They shoot for an RFV of 150.

"I think 150 is ideal. If I get much higher than that, the haylage is too rich and it'll go right through my cows. It's high-quality, but it's not to an extreme," he says.

Consistent Forage Quality Is Key High-quality alfalfa haylage and corn silage are the backbone of the TMR the Koepke family feeds to its high-producing herd, which boasts a rolling herd average of 30,100 lbs of milk.

"The ability to get milk out of a cow rides on a dairy producer's skill to either grow or buy consistent high-quality forages," says John Koepke, who farms with his dad, Jim, and uncles, Alan and David, near Oconomowoc, WI. "Without some form of fairly digestible fiber, you're not going to see high production levels."

The Koepkes grow all of the corn, alfalfa and soybeans they need on 800 acres for their 320-cow herd.

John says a new windrow merger sped drying and harvesting this year, allowing them to harvest higher-quality haylage. They used to lay the hay in 6'-wide windrows for field drying. Now they leave 10'-wide swaths, which dry to 50-65% moisture much faster. Then they combine two or three of them, which speeds chopping.

"Nearly every field we've cut this year has been ready to chop within 24 hours," says Koepke, who holds an animal science degree from Cornell University.

"The volume of alfalfa that's laying on the ground at any one time is lower because the chopper is one day behind the windrower vs. three."

He adds: "The carbohydrate content of the alfalfa is higher because the forage isn't laying on the ground respiring while we're waiting for it to dry."

To aid in accurate ration balancing, has has a sample tested from every 10th to 12th load as it's being chopped, records the number of loads from each field and logs those numbers. That lets him track the haylage from every field and every cutting as he feeds during the year.

"This system isn't perfect, but it gives me a pretty decent idea of the forage quality we're feeding and for how long it will last," says Koepke. He aims for haylage that comes out of storage at 20% crude protein, with an ADF of 30 and an NDF of 40. "I think it helps a lot if you have a consistent product that you can feed all year round."

In addition to alfalfa haylage and corn silage, the TMR includes dry-shelled corn, farm-roasted soybeans, whole cottonseed, corn gluten pellets, minerals and vitamins. No dry hay is fed.

"I'm happiest if the forage base is 50% alfalfa haylage or greater, but once I get above two-thirds, I think it starts to go backwards. You need to strike a balance between alfalfa haylage and corn silage."

Big Herd Sports 30,000-Lb Average Every facet of the feeding program for Klaas and Mares Vanderploeg's Ithaca, MI, herd is carefully formulated.

The 1,250-cow herd has a rolling herd average of 30,000 lbs of milk. The Vanderploegs grow their own alfalfa haylage and corn silage on 1,400 acres and store it in bunkers. Grass hay is bought for dry and fresh cows.

"You need good forages," says Klaas Vanderploeg. "They're the basis of my ration."

"We're currently feeding 54 lbs of dry matter/cow/day," says Brian Schafer, a Cargill dairy nutritionist who works closely with the Vanderploeg herd. "The farm's feed manager, Dave Hunter, watches feed intake closely. If it's exceptionally good one day and the cows clean their feed up early, Dave will let me know and we'll make adjustments. We want to make sure the cows aren't out of feed."

Cows are fed twice daily and the feed is pushed up several times a day.

Cows in milk about 80 days or more are fed a TMR of corn silage, alfalfa haylage, high-moisture corn, cottonseed, soybean meal, distiller's grain, beet pulp, and a custom mix of protein, vitamins and minerals.

The TMR fed to fresh cows is similar to the one listed above, except that it includes a few pounds of hay, additional vitamin E and yeast. Dry matter intake for fresh cows is about 48 lbs/cow/day.

Fresh cows get a small amount of hay for several reasons, says Schafer.

"We feed hay during the dry period and we want to provide them with some consistency after they freshen. The hay increases ration dry matter and helps them maintain a good rumen mat, too."

Last year, the family built three barns, one each for dry, transition and fresh cows.

"Fresh cows are pampered in that new barn," says Shafer. "Herdsman Rich Engle closely monitors cow numbers to keep the stalls per cow on a one-to-one ratio. It's very beneficial for fresh cows not to be overcrowded."

Half the barn is for first-calf heifers; half is for mature cows. "Smaller animals aren't competing with larger ones for bunk space," says Shafer.

During the first 40 days of the dry period, cows are fed approximately 33 lbs of dry matter/cow/day. The dry cow ration consists of corn silage, alfalfa haylage, 6.5 lbs of grass hay, beet pulp, soybean meal and minerals.

At about 20 days from calving, cows are changed to a close-up diet of corn silage, 4.5 lbs of grass hay, beet pulp, high-moisture corn, calcium carbonate, dry fat, yeast, and a custom protein, vitamin and mineral mix.